Justia Health Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
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A Rhode Island oral and maxillofacial surgeon, Dr. Stephen T. Skoly, refused to comply with a COVID-19 Emergency Regulation issued by the Rhode Island Department of Health (RI DOH) that required all healthcare workers and providers to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Following his public declaration of noncompliance, the RI DOH issued a Notice of Violation and Compliance Order against him. Skoly then filed a lawsuit in federal court against the state and its officials, alleging violations of equal protection, due process, and First Amendment rights. The district court dismissed his complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).The district court's decision was based on the fact that the state officials were either entitled to absolute or qualified immunity for their actions. The court held that the RI DOH directors were exercising prosecutorial authority delegated to them by Rhode Island law, thus granting them absolute immunity. As for Governor McKee, the court found that he was protected by qualified immunity as Skoly had no clearly established right to continue practicing while violating the vaccine mandate. The court also rejected Skoly's First Amendment retaliation claim, stating that the posting of the Notice constituted government speech, which could not form the basis of a plausible First Amendment retaliation claim.Upon appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Skoly's complaint. The appellate court agreed with the lower court's findings that the state officials were entitled to either absolute or qualified immunity and that Skoly's constitutional claims were without merit. The court also upheld the dismissal of Skoly's First Amendment retaliation claim, stating that Skoly had not sufficiently alleged that he was targeted due to his opposition to the First Emergency Regulation. View "Skoly v. McKee" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Ángel M. Ayala-Vázquez was indicted and convicted on multiple drug-related charges, including conspiring to possess with intent to distribute and aiding and abetting the possession of with intent to distribute over 280 grams of cocaine base. He was sentenced in 2011 to life imprisonment. In 2021, Ayala filed a motion to reduce his sentence under the First Step Act and for compassionate release due to his hypertension and obesity making him vulnerable to COVID-19.The District Court denied Ayala's motion, concluding that he was ineligible for a sentence reduction under the First Step Act because his sentences were imposed "in accordance with" the amendments made by the Fair Sentencing Act. The court also rejected his request for compassionate release, finding that Ayala failed to demonstrate extraordinary and compelling reasons to warrant such relief. Moreover, the court determined that Ayala posed a danger to other persons and the community.On appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, the court affirmed the District Court's decision. It concluded that Ayala was indeed convicted of offenses involving 280 grams or more of cocaine base, and his life sentences were in accordance with the Fair Sentencing Act. Therefore, he was not eligible for a sentence reduction under the First Step Act. As for the compassionate release, the court found no abuse of discretion in the District Court's evaluation of Ayala's health conditions and perceived danger to the community. View "United States v. Ayala-Vazquez" on Justia Law

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A group of individuals filed a lawsuit against Genzyme Corporation, a drug manufacturer, for injuries allegedly caused by the company's mishandling of a prescription drug shortage between 2009 and 2012. The lawsuit was filed several years after the events in question occurred and would typically have been considered too late under the applicable statutory limitations periods. However, the plaintiffs argued that previous class actions, a savings statute, and a tolling agreement between the parties allowed the lawsuit to proceed. The district court partially agreed and rejected Genzyme's argument that the delay in filing required dismissal of the lawsuit. However, it dismissed the claims of all but four plaintiffs for lack of standing, and dismissed the remaining claims on the merits.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found that all plaintiffs have standing and the court has jurisdiction to proceed with the case, at least with respect to the plaintiffs' individual claims. However, it concluded that four plaintiffs waited too long before filing this lawsuit, and their claims are time-barred. For the remaining plaintiffs, the court vacated the judgment dismissing their claims and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. View "Wilkins v. Genzyme Corporation" on Justia Law

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A pregnant inmate, Lidia Lech, filed a lawsuit against several healthcare providers and staff at the Western Massachusetts Regional Women's Correctional Center (WCC), alleging that they ignored her serious medical symptoms and denied her requests to go to the hospital, resulting in the stillbirth of her baby. The district court permitted most of Lech's claims to proceed to trial, but granted summary judgment in favor of one of the correctional officers. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defense. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit found that the district court abused its discretion in two evidentiary rulings. The first error was allowing the defense to use Lech's recorded phone calls to impugn her character for truthfulness. The second error was excluding testimony from Lech's friend, which would have corroborated her version of events. The court concluded that at least one of these evidentiary rulings was not harmless, vacated the jury verdict, and remanded for a new trial against most of the defendants. However, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the correctional officer, as well as the jury verdict in favor of one of the medical providers. View "Lech v. Von Goeler" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit considered a case where Lawrence General Hospital (LGH) sued Continental Casualty Company for denying coverage for losses LGH alleges it suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. LGH argued that its insurance policy with Continental covered the losses under two types of coverage: coverage for "direct physical loss of or damage to property" and a Health Care Endorsement covering losses and costs incurred due to compliance with government decontamination orders.Applying Massachusetts state law, the court ruled that LGH failed to state a claim that the SARS-CoV-2 virus caused "direct physical loss of or damage to its property," affirming the lower court's dismissal of this claim. However, the court found that LGH was subject to decontamination orders due to COVID-19 and thus had a valid claim for coverage under the Health Care Endorsement. As such, the court reversed the lower court's dismissal of this claim and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Lawrence General Hospital v. Continental Casualty Co." on Justia Law

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In this case, Virginia Cora Ward, as the administratrix of the estate of Edmund Edward Ward, brought a case against AlphaCore Pharma, LLC (ACP) and Bruce Auerbach. The decedent, Edmund Ward, was a participant in a clinical trial for a drug known as ACP-501, which was developed by ACP and administered by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The trial took place in Maryland, where Ward traveled from his home in Massachusetts to receive treatment. Ward later withdrew from the trial due to deteriorating kidney function.In 2016, Ward filed a complaint against ACP, Auerbach, and several others, alleging fraudulent inducement to participate in the clinical trial. ACP and Auerbach moved to dismiss the case for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that they lacked sufficient contacts with Massachusetts. The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts agreed with them and dismissed the case. Ward appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.The First Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that neither ACP nor Auerbach had sufficient related and purposeful contacts in and with Massachusetts to establish personal jurisdiction. The court rejected Ward's claims that ACP and Auerbach had contacts with Massachusetts through their interactions with Ward's Massachusetts-based doctor, their alleged shipment of the drug to Massachusetts, their involvement in drafting the clinical trial protocol, and their alleged reimbursement of Ward's travel expenses. The court found that these claims were either unsupported by evidence or were not sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction. As a result, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the case against ACP and Auerbach for lack of personal jurisdiction. View "Ward v. Schaefer" on Justia Law

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Former executives of medical device manufacturer Acclarent, Inc., William Facteau and Patrick Fabian, were found guilty of multiple misdemeanor violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) for commercially distributing an adulterated and misbranded medical device. They appealed their convictions, claiming First Amendment violations, due process violations, and insufficiency of evidence. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit rejected all of these claims and affirmed the convictions. The court held that the use of promotional speech as evidence of a device's intended use did not implicate the First Amendment. The court also found that the term "intended use" was not unconstitutionally vague and that Facteau and Fabian had fair warning of the conduct prohibited under the FDCA. Finally, the court found that the evidence was sufficient to support the convictions and that Fabian's fine did not violate the Eighth Amendment. View "United States v. Facteau" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court determining that Anonymous Appellant (AA) should be civilly committed upon the expiation of his prison sentence, holding that AA was not entitled to relief on his allegations of error.Seventy-three-year-old AA had a history of incarceration spanning more than five decades. During his incarceration AA began to exhibit psychotic symptoms and was diagnosed with having schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, and antisocial personality disorder. Based on the concerns of a risk-assessment panel the government filed a petition for the civil commitment of AA pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 4246. The district court granted the petition. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that there was no error in the proceedings below. View "United States v. Anonymous Appellant" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing the complaint brought by Appellant, a certified nursing assistant at Soldiers' Home, a state-funded healthcare facility housing veterans, alleging violations of his constitutional substantive due process rights to a safe work environment, to be free from a state-created danger, and to bodily integrity, holding that there was no error.Appellant brought this action pursuant to 24 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that Appellees violated his substantive due process rights during the COVID-19 pandemic by failing to protect him from harm, to provide safe working environment, and to provide adequate medical and nursing equipment. Appellees filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, claiming qualified immunity. The district court dismissed the suit. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that where Appellant pointed to no precedent establishing that Appellees' COVID-19 response violated clearly established law, Appellees were entitled to qualified immunity. View "Ablordeppey v. Walsh" on Justia Law

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In this action arising out of the curtailment of classes and services at the University of Rhode Island (URI) during the COVID-19 pandemic, the First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing some of Plaintiffs' claims early in the litigation and granting summary judgment in favor of Defendant on the remaining claims, holding that the district court did not err.Plaintiffs, students who remained enrolled at URI during the pandemic, filed separate putative class actions against URI alleging breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Specifically, Plaintiffs argued that URI had breached its contract when it stopped providing in-person, on-campus instruction. The district court dismissed certain claims and then, following the completion of discovery, granted summary judgment on the remaining claims. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs failed to make out a genuine issue of material fact as to whether URI had either an express or implied contract to provide in-person services and activities. View "Burt v. Bd. of Trustees of University of R.I." on Justia Law